Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Student Networking: Career Advice from Ben Brodner

by Ann Abbott

This semester my Business Spanish students did a networking project in which they had to choose one of my former students (I provided a list), research them on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, etc., and then contact them directly with a list of questions. (I'll provide the links to the lesson plans when I get back to my computer.) They did a great job, and they have already begun to receive replies.

Benjamin Brodner was an unforgettable student of mine, full of energy, enthusiasm and passion for languages and the people who speak them. I thought he was great and have been lucky enough to stay in touch with him through Facebook and follow his career trajectory with Abbott.

Here is his correspondence with my students. There are a lot of very valuable lessons here! Thankfully, Benjamin gave me his permission to share his words of wisdom on this blog so that future students can also benefit.

Dear All, 
Good morning from bright and sunny (hot) UAE! You are in a great class and have an awesome professor at that! I have your questions answered below; sorry I did this on lunch, so bear with me if I start rambling. I didn't proof read, so please don't let me lead by example. If you guys need any further clarification, please do not hesitate to contact me again. 


  • The field that you are in now is very different than what you studied in college. How did you go from studying communications at U of I, to working as a budget analyst for a pharmaceuticals company? Many of us are unsure about exactly what possibilities will be available to us after graduation.

    Like most of you, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated college.....I still don't know what I want to do. When I studied abroad in Spain, I had a friend working for Abbott and he had a conference in Madrid and invited me to meet him there. So I did, and ended up taking a bunch of the employees out for a tour of the city and of course drinks. One of the employees was really impressed with my Spanish skills, really enjoyed my impromptu tour and she offered me a position when I graduated. From there, I knew that I wanted to travel, so I started searching on the company job board and creating contacts with whomever would talk to me. Long story short it was a bit of luck and a lot of communication. Any job you go to in the business world will have different practices, systems, ways of doing business, etc; any position you go to you will have to learn on the job. A communications major (or a liberal arts degree) sets you up with the skills necessary to succeed in the business world, for example, how to interact with people, take instruction, learn new things.  

  • In our research, we saw that you studied abroad in Bilbao, Spain. How did your study abroad experience while you were at U of I influence your career path and how did you frame your study abroad experience while applying for internships and jobs? The juniors and seniors in our group are preparing to apply for jobs and graduate schools and any advice would be extremely helpful.

    Studying abroad was like a drug for me; after getting the travel bug I just couldn't sit still. I wanted to see more, try more things, and meet more people from all over. Study abroad was the turning point in my life that helped me decide what I wanted to do. I didn't know what I wanted to do for work, but I knew I wanted it to involve travel. Studying abroad was my first experience with true independence. I lived with a host mom that didn't speak my mother tongue which forced me to learn Spanish. You have to be outgoing. My host mom worked at a bar. Everyday after class, I would go to her bar, order my glass of wine, and the locals would help me with my homework. None of them spoke English so it forced me to learn the language. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to use it in business but maybe one day I will pick it back up. My advice is, if you have the opportunity to do so, make sure you study abroad. 

  • Many of us are interested in working abroad after we graduate, and we would appreciate any advice you have about preparing for a move abroad. How did you get ready to move to Dubai from the United States? What steps did you take?

    So this is my third country. I started living in Switzerland for a year, on to Ireland for about 1.5 years, and now Dubai for 1.5 years....I am sort of desensitized with moving abroad. It's pretty easy once you get the hang of it. So I will break this down into two answers: 1. Finding how to do it. 2. Actually pulling the trigger. 

    1. Finding a job outside of the US. If you work for a multinational company, it is pretty easy to get them to move you around. You have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone in terms of work and try new things. When I accepted my first out of US job in Switzerland I had NO idea what I was going to be doing. I was a Demand Analyst and had no idea what the word 'demand' actually meant in that sense. My manager at that time took a huge risk hiring me for the role based off of work ethic and it paid off for both parties. This was after a few years in Abbott so I was able to prove my work ethic to the right people to get that risk taken. 

    2. When I first left the U.S. I was tweaking a bit. Leaving friends, family, setting up a new life in some country I know no one in. Yes it is difficult doing those things, but you're only young once. You won't get the chance to have an experience of living in these random locations when you're married, have kids, own a house, etc. Once I got over the fear of the first move, I was able to continue with the other moves into countries. The hardest was definitely to Dubai. I am in a Muslim culture where it is 'technically' illegal to drink. 

  • How does the business culture differ in Dubai compared to the United States? How difficult was the integration into not only a new culture but a completely different business environment?

    Dubai culture specifically varies a lot. I am the only American in an office of about 50 people. Many meetings that I will be attending will drift into Arabic and I will have to clear my throat, or respond in English to get the conversation back to a language I understand. That can be very tough when you have to take business decisions. Also working with governments out here in the Middle East to import stock (different, strict laws), working in multiple currencies, dealing with multiple languages, etc. When I first arrived in Dubai, my manager asked me to show him on a map Iran and Iraq, two countries under my responsibility, and I couldn't do it. Needless to say, that is one thing I can do now. 

  • If you could work anywhere in the world, where would you choose and why?
  • After 5 years and around 50 countries, I am ready to head back to the U.S. Global experience is something that they can not teach you in your MBA, CPA, etc. I come back to the U.S. with knowledge that can not be learned in a classroom and a more open minded view of the business world. 

    IF I was to continue traveling, I would recommend like to go to Argentina or Singapore. 

    My recommendations for you as students of places to look for jobs: 

    Dubai - Pretty easy as an American to find a job. They are always looking for English speaking teachers and it is the hub for US multinational companies to set base up for Middle East operations. Plus it is tax free, has the biggest airline in the world, and I can assure you can have an alcoholic beverage or two and not be deported. 

    Switzerland - One of the best standards of living: high wages, great public transportation, very big pharmaceutical country. Many countries go here as they offer low corporate tax rates. 

    Ireland - My favorite country to have lived for work and it aligns closely to U.S. values. Very easy move. 

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